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Cocktails Anyone?
by Sheila Swerling-Puritt

Among the many accomplishments for which Christopher Columbus is remembered is his role in bringing sugar cane to the West Indies on one of his later voyages. By 1520, numerous flourishing sugar plantations were pandering to the European sweet tooth. That would have been reason enough to celebrate the establishment of sugar cultivation in the Caribbean, but for drinks enthusiasts, there's another: Rum.

It didn't take canny British settlers long to discover that molasses, a by-product of sugar refinement, could be fermented and distilled into potable spirits. A vibrant rum industry was well established by the 17th century.

Since that time, rum has had a storied history. Sailors in the British Navy were allotted a tot daily. Pirates were sailors too, which explains the "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" shared by sixteen men on a dead man's chest. In the days when wars were actually winnable, American troops occupying Cuba between 1898 and 1902 were not permitted to drink while on duty, but they did develop a fondness for Cuban rum. Coincidentally, Coca-Cola became an extremely popular soft drink at the same time. Soon, the resourceful "Yanquis" found a way to enjoy rum without their superiors finding out about it. They secreted it in bottles of Coca-Cola and pretended to be innocently downing the new soft drink and establishing an enduring mixological tradition – Rum and Coke, celebrated during and just after World War II in "Rum and Coca-Cola," a big hit in 1944 for the Andrews Sisters.

Three types of rum dominate production in the West Indies today. Very light (white or silver) rums hail from Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. These require little aging and are relatively tasteless and odorless. Golden rum, also known as añejo, though still of the light-bodied type, has more taste and pronounced character. Darker, aromatic, full-bodied rums such as Myers's are produced in Jamaica. These are distilled by a slower and different fermentation process, which allows more time for a fuller, richer, molasses like body to develop. In between are medium rums from Guyana, Barbados, Haiti and many other islands.

Delicious rum is also produced outside the Caribbean. Batavia, a unique aromatic rum, is made from Javanese red rice. Small rice cakes are made and put into molasses to ferment naturally. The distilled rum is then aged for 3 years in Java and then shipped to Holland for further aging (up to 5 years). Aguardiente de Cana is the name given to rum from South America. The most popular of them is Cachaça, from Brazil. On my last trip to Mexico, I tasted Macollo rum made from sugar cane grown and distilled on the west coast, then transported for ageing in the mountains near Lake Chapala. It was excellent. Certainly good enough to walk away with a prize at the first Rums of the World Show held last year by the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation last. Perhaps not surprisingly, rum is also made in Hawaii.

All rum is colourless when first distilled, and those that are aged for only a year are often artificially colored with caramel. Even heavy-bodied rums that are aged in charred oak casks for as long as twenty years, during which time they acquire some of their colour, are sometimes subjected to artificial colouring. Medium- and heavy-bodied rums are usually aged between two and twenty years and take their colour from the barrels.

Producers have made a success of flavoured rums by adding natural spices, coconut, vanilla, banana, pineapple, lemon-lime and orange, to name but a few.

Rums, especially those well aged, make delicious sipping spirits on their own.

That said, here are some general principals to remember when mixing a rum cocktail. Balance is important. It’s not a rite of passage. The drink isn't supposed to sting like a shot of Jack Daniels. Also, trust your taste. Mixing drinks is more art than science.

The key to good cocktails is temperature. Cold is good! Cocktails are for sipping. But remember, the drink that contains a lot of ice, the longer you let it languish in the glass, the more watered down the taste will be and you will lose the balance of the desired flavours.

Rum makes an excellent base for summer drinks. It's ideal for hot, sultry days. (We have been promised a few of them during August!) Well, we can pretend the rest of the time, as we sit by the pool, on the patio, deck or balcony. Let your imagination wander. The following drinks only take seconds to prepare.

When it comes to Rum cocktails, a favourite is still the "Cuba Libre", which means "free Cuba" in Spanish.

What sets Cuba Libre apart from a simple Rum and Coke is the refreshing addition of lime juice. If you thought dark rum was just for making hot toddies and fruit cakes in the winter, think again. I prefer its lovely intense flavour with the cola.

Classic Cuba Libre

  • 2 tsp. fresh lime juice
  • 2 oz. Myers's original Dark Rum
  • 4–6 oz. of cola
  • Lime slice for garnish
  1. Fill a highball glass with ice cubes.
  2. Add freshly squeezed lime juice, then the rum.
  3. Fill remainder of glass with cola. Garnish with a slice of lime.

The Daiquiri was invented by some American mining engineers who arrived in Cuba soon after the Spanish-American War. The setting for this tasty cocktail was the town of Daiquiri, site of the Daiquiri iron mine.

Daiquiris are extremely versatile. They can be prepared chilled or frozen and lend themselves to different fruit combinations such as strawberry, banana, watermelon and are usually made with light rum.

Classic Daiquiri

  • 2 oz. Captain Morgan White Rum
  • 1 oz. lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • 2 tsp. powdered fruit sugar*
  • Ice
  1. Place sugar and lime juice in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Shake until sugar dissolves.
  3. Add ice to shaker, pour rum over ice.
  4. Shake vigorously, strain into a stemmed cocktail glass.

*Powdered fruit sugar dissolves quickly in liquid. It is available in most supermarkets. Whizzing granulated sugar around in your food processor will do as well.

Word has it that a bartender named Cantalonian Constantino Ribalaigua Vert blended the first frozen Daiquiri in the 1920s.

What personifies summer more than a brightly coloured cocktail?

Frozen Blue Daiquiri

  • 2 oz. Captain Morgan White Rum
  • 1 oz. lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • 2 tsp. powdered fruit sugar
  • 1 oz. Bols Blue Curaçao
  1. Combine all the ingredients into a blender.
  2. With the machine running, add 3 or more ice cubes, one at a time so you don't jam the blades in the machine. Should be slushy.
  3. Pour into a cocktail glass. Serve with a short straw.

Mojito (Cuba's national drink)

  • 6 fresh mint leaves*
  • 1 sprig of mint
  • 1½ oz. Captain Morgan White Rum
  • 3 Tbsp. lime juice. freshly squeezed
  • 1½ tsp. powdered fruit sugar (or 2 Tbsp. simple syrup)
  • Club soda chilled

*Option: 1 tsp. mint syrup. If you have any mint julep syrup left over from the recipe in May's column, now is the time to use it in addition to the mint leaves.

  1. Combine sugar, lime juice and mint in a Collins or High Ball glass.
  2. Bruise the mint with a fork. Stir thoroughly. Top with ice. Add rum and mix.
  3. Top up with club soda.
  4. Garnish with a slice of lime and a sprig of mint.

Piña Colada

  • 1½ oz. Appleton Estate Rum
  • 2 oz. pineapple juice
  • 2 oz. coconut milk (canned)*
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ½ small ripe banana
  • ½ cup crushed ice
  1. Place all the ingredients into a blender
  2. Mix at slow speed.
  3. Pour into a chilled goblet.
  4. Garnish with a pineapple spear and a cherry.

*You can freeze any coconut milk left over and use later.


For more information, you can contact Sheila at




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